Getting Vocal About Buying Local: How Small Businesses Give the Big Easy its Charm

April 20th, 2015 by Search Influence Alumni

Some of Search Influence’s online marketing clients are small, local businesses that serve a neighborhood, town or region. To find out how small, local businesses impact a city as well as more about the trendy “buy local” movement, we talked to Mark Strella of StayLocal!.

Power to the SMBs

The real impact of locally owned, independent businesses in New Orleans became known just days after Hurricane Katrina struck the city. While Wal-Mart and Starbucks waited for New Orleans to recover, local bars, venues, and hardware stores reopened without hesitation.

Ten years later, the predominance of small, local businesses can be seen on nearly every street in the Greater New Orleans area. And the biggest advocate for preserving New Orleans’ cultural singularity is StayLocal!.

StayLocal! is the Greater New Orleans’ Independent Business Alliance, a non-profit, member-supported organization that connects local New Orleans business to customers, resources, and each other. StayLocal! works to foster the culture of the city by helping local businesses—and subsequently, New Orleans—thrive.

Project Manager Mark Strella tells us more about StayLocal! and its efforts to support locally owned, independent businesses in New Orleans:

So what exactly does “locally owned, independent business” mean?

To us, it means a business in which majority ownership resides within the five-parish New Orleans region. That means the business is owned by New Orleans residents, and decisions about the business are made here, by locals. Or in plain English: not a chain.

Who are some of the locally owned independent businesses you work with?

We work with local businesses of all types around the New Orleans area. We work with a lot of retail businesses, from smaller guys who sell around town at markets and pop-up shops, up to bigger local businesses who have numerous locations, and ones in between. We also work with service businesses and folks in the food industry. Our goal is to be these businesses’ ally: we’re here to provide them with the resources they need to thrive and be around for years.

As a New Orleans resident, how can I benefit from buying locally?

There are a bunch of reasons, and everyone has a reason that is particularly dear to them. For me, it’s that one of the reasons I love New Orleans is that it looks like nowhere else. And so much of that is because of how strong our local business presence is. Most cities in the country don’t come remotely close to being so heavily populated by businesses that are locally owned, rather than the standard menu of chain stores. So when you buy local, you’re supporting that part of our culture and identity and actively doing your part to ensure it stays a part of what you love about New Orleans.

It’s also better for our economy when you spend at a local business versus a chain. That local then takes your money and re-spends it locally, whether it’s on supplies, or accountants, graphic designers, marketers, etc. So that money stays here in New Orleans, whereas money spent at a chain or online leaves New Orleans and benefits some other city. Studies show that spending locally has two or three times a local economic benefit than shopping at a non-local business.

I’ve seen quite a few television shows poke fun at the buy-local movement, specifically Broad City and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, so it must be a pretty big trend. Where does New Orleans stand in the push for staying local?

Ha, I have too, and that’s a testament to the buy-local movement’s success. It’s cool now. I think its success is a reaction to the rise over the past years and decades of chain businesses and now even online giants. People see these faceless businesses everywhere they go and they start to crave authenticity. They gain a greater appreciation for the local business down the street that’s owned and run night and day by their neighbor.

I think New Orleans is way out in front. We’ve always had a thriving local business scene. One study a few years ago showed we had one of the best local business to non-local business ratios of any city in the country. And we have such great appreciation for it as a culture. Our entrepreneurship and start-up scene is huge, thanks in large part to a number of great organizations that are fostering entrepreneurship like Idea Village and Propeller. And when we have this buy-local culture deeply imbued in our behavior as residents— that supporting all things local is simply what we do as New Orleanians—those new businesses have a huge audience to serve.

What events does StayLocal! host or promote throughout the year to encourage New Orleanians to buy local?

We do a ton of stuff. We recently put out the second of our Neighborhood Guide series, which points residents towards local businesses in a specific neighborhood. The neighborhood we did was Central City. Last year, we did Mid-City. And up next is Algiers Point. We have a constant stream of good information on our social media channels, so we definitely encourage folks to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, yada yada, so that we can turn them on to new local businesses. We also are very active in the fall and holiday season pointing New Orleanians towards local shopping options, through our shop local for the holidays campaign, as well as Small Business Saturday.

And then in general, we spend the rest of our time working with the businesses in our network, helping them run a better business. We do workshops and run all kinds of initiatives and promotions to help our members better connect with one another and access tools that will boost their biz.

Last question: what should I tell my co-workers before they buy their next cup of coffee at Starbucks?

… it’s just important to say “everything in moderation,” and to think of the big picture and what matters to you. If you care about the economic health of the city, think about how local coffee shops re-spend their revenues locally and use local service providers and local firms, creating more jobs and opportunities for New Orleanians. If you care about living in a unique place, think about what New Orleans would be like without its local businesses. If you care about innovation here in New Orleans, we have so many coffee shops doing amazing things with coffee. Mojo. French Truck has its new spot in the Lower Garden District. Spitfire is incredible. So often, local is simply better. But if Starbucks is your thing and that’s not changing, try taking that mindset and applying it to anything else you buy and see what’s out there locally instead.

For more information and to find your new favorite local business, visit Stay Local! at Be sure to also follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

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